CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Just days after announcing charges that charges against University of Virginia student Martese Johnson would be dropped, prosecutors held a detailed, two-hour long public presentation to explain their decision. Part of the conversation included why the Alcohol Beverage Control agents were not charged.
Martese Johnson, then age 20, was arrested outside Trinity Irish pub in Charlottesville, early in the morning on March 18, as people celebrated St. Patrick's Day. Johnson's 21st birthday fell on the same day as the ABC hearing.
A national outcry erupted when pictures of Johnson, bloodied and on the ground, saturated media outlets. School officials expressed their support for the honor student.
The agents were out in an area of Charlottesville called ‘the Corner,’ an area situated by campus, where restaurants, boutiques, and bars are frequented by students.
"It is not as a result the publicity, it is not a result of the pressure; this is what we do and if we don't do this, hold us accountable for it," Commonwealth Attorney Dave Chapman said when asked if charges were dropped because of media pressure.
Chapman said over 50 eyewitnesses were contacted and that 15 of them were interviewed.
New surveillance video from a nearby police camera was also released, however six minutes is missing during the critical time of the arrest.
Chapman said police would testify that it hadn't been tampered with and that the video system routinely has gaps in the footage.
Chapman declared that his investigation concluded Johnson did nothing criminal prior to getting arrested however when he resisted arrest he could have been charged with obstruction.
Chapman also concluded ABC agents had every right to confront Johnson because he had just been kicked out of a bar.
"Had we thought for a moment that malice, racial animosity or reckless disregard of the sworn oath of an officer occurred we would not have hesitated to prosecute," Chapman said.
As for how Johnson ended up so bloodied, prosecutors concluded it was because of an accidental fall during the arrest.
Johnson's lawyers released a statement, which mentioned that the arresting officers declined to participate in the investigation :
Only six days after the prosecution asked Judge Downer to dismiss the charges against Martese Johnson, Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Charlottesville Dave Chapman presented the results of the Virginia State Police investigation at City Hall in a session open to the public that lasted more than two hours. Although Mr. Johnson initially intended to be present, a scheduling conflict precluded him from attending.
This afternoon, prosecutors indicated that Mr. Johnson "was not in fact committing a criminal offense" when the police approached him on March 18, 2015. Nevertheless, images clearly reflect what next occurred: a young man of eminent abilities, industry, and popularity was slammed to the ground, substantially injured, jailed, and subsequently arrested for two misdemeanors. Our position is and always has been that police lacked justification to seize Mr. Johnson.
At the beginning of the investigation, Mr. Johnson answered questions from the Virginia State Police regarding the incident and fully cooperated with their efforts. In contrast, Officers Miller, Custer, and Thomas issued police reports the night of the arrest but each of the men declined to participate in the investigation.
After reviewing the State Police investigation report, Mr. Chapman declined to prosecute Mr. Johnson. We are thankful that the criminal prosecution against Mr. Johnson has been terminated and he is excited today to celebrate his 21st birthday in a safe and responsible manner.